When George Harrison’s Slide Guitar Soared on John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ Album

Two years after The Beatles parted ways, John Lennon couldn’t help declaring the breakup a success. The way John saw it, the four ex-bandmates had delivered some great solo work — records he preferred over the last two Fab Four albums.

What’s more, John pointed out how the bandmates could collaborate when they liked. “George [Harrison] is on half of [Imagine] playing guitar,” he told NME in ’72. “The only reason Ringo wasn’t on it was because he was abroad, making his movie. So then the three of us would have been on it.”

In so many words, John was saying that everything was great as long as Paul McCartney wasn’t involved. (George said the same thing a few years later, only explicitly.) And, given George and Ringo’s contributions to John’s first two records, you can’t help but agreeing with him.

On John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970), Ringo’s drum work fit in perfectly with the album’s spare instrumentation and raw emotion. And on Imagine (1971) George really let loose with the slide guitar he’d become known for.

George Harrison went to work on slide guitar on John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’

George Harrison performing in 1971
1971: George Harrison performs on stage. | Bettmann

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After studying the sitar (and Indian music in general) for several years, George turned his attention back to the guitar in 1968. Noticing all the blazing guns who’d arrived on the scene (including Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page), he decided to focus on slide guitar instead.

On his debut solo record All Things Must Pass (1970), George showcased his new slide technique. Obviously, John Lennon noticed. When making Imagine, John brought in George to play lead guitar on multiple tracks. And the explosive “Gimme Some Truth” was one of them.

The song, which features a killer hook and Lennon spitting out anti-establishment lyrics, gets side 2 of Imagine off to a rollicking start. George’s slide work is one of the highlights. After the second lyric section, John does a “woo-hoo” (at 0:46) and cedes the floor to his old bandmate.

George’s guitar comes out screaming and cranks on for the next 25 seconds. If you’re gonna sing about a “short-haired, yellow-bellied son of tricky Dick,” you want something that sounds like George’s guitar as your solo. And John got exactly that. But there was more.

John raved about George’s work on ‘How Do You Sleep?’ and ‘Gimme Some Truth’

George Harrison in 1971
Circa 1971: George HARRISON playing acoustic guitar | GAB Archive/Redferns

While “Gimme Some Truth” stands as an essential Lennon anthem, he had much more where that came from on Imagine (even setting aside the title track). Halfway through side 2, John dropped his legendary takedown of Paul, “How Do You Sleep?”

Once again, George plays for keeps on slide guitar. On the original release, George launches into a solo at 2:39 and goes on for about 35 seconds. But on alternate takes you can see George answer John’s vocal lines throughout the track. It’s glorious.

Speaking to NME about his second record, John was ecstatic. And he called out George’s work specifically. “There’s a guy called George Harrison on it and he does some mother of solos,” he said. “George used to be with The Bubbles or somebodys.”

On another occasion, John put it a different way. “That’s the best [George] ever f*cking played in his life!” he said (via While My Guitar Gently Weeps). Either way, it was clear the collaboration worked out for all parties.

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